Monday, November 7, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

Last Wednesday was Dia de los Muertos. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that has grown in worldwide popularity. We learned about it when we studied Mexico a little while back (read about our Mexican adventures here, here, here, here, here and here). On Wednesday I wrote a post called "Dia de los PINTEREST???" that included a snippet of how we celebrated The Day Of The Dead. Now, as promised, I bring to you, our Dia de los Muertos. 

Before I jump to the photos of what we did, I want to quickly fill you in, in case you have not actually ever celebrated The Day of the Dead, or learned anything about it. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (translates to The Day of the Dead) is actually spread over several days, culminating on November 2nd. This is a day when they set up altars honoring friends and family that have died. It is usually done in a way that celebrates the persons life. This is a happy occasion, this is not a day of mourning, but more of remembering who they were and celebrating their faults as well as their virtues. Also, offerings are made to deceased; these offerings are represented by their favorite food, a favorite hobby, you get the idea. If The Day Of The Dead is not something that you have heard much about before now, I highly suggest that you do a little research and consider celebrating next year. 

To begin with, the day before The Day of the Dead, we made Papel Picados. These are decorations made from cutting tissue paper. After the paper is cut, it is hung on or around an altar. 

Seriously, can't you just feel the excitement?
Aiden took this picture of me
(he's getting pretty good at using the zoom button, so we don't have a photo of the whole room)

After the kids went to bed I decided to try another papel picado, but this time instead of folding and cutting I would use an X-acto knife. I was foolish to think it would be easy, but I was pleased with the final product, even if it was wrinkled tissue paper. I considered ironing it, but was worried I'd start a fire (I have crazy thoughts like that from time to time).
I used a picture of a skull and traced it with pencil, then cut the shapes out, modifying where necessary. 
The next day, (Dia de los Muertos) Eliana wanted to color, so she colored a picture of a sugar skull. 

You didn't really think that I'd make that really fabulous sandwich for Aiden and not make Eliana one did you?
After lunch, I started setting up our altar. We made some tissue paper flowers (el papel florea), pulled out some candles and found some offerings for our loved ones.

I don't know if it is customary to celebrate the life of your dog on Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, but we lost our beloved 13 year old pit bull in the spring and since she was a part of our family, we decided that we wanted her on our altar. 

November 6, 1997 - June 7, 2011
We hung her collar over her photo and made offerings of dog treats. Eliana drew a picture of Sierra (the black part is her tail. She didn't have a black tail, but we don't question an artist's creation around here).

Next up came grandparents. This is where it got a little harder. We had our memories to go on to figure out what kinds of things should be included here, but some of our memories are very old and the cobwebs make them blurry. 

I remembered that my grandmother would come visit us in Maine during apple picking season and she loved cortland apples. Every year when we pick apples, I make sure to get some cortland apples, because they remind me of her and that makes me smile. I offered a bowl of cortlands to her on this day.  

Honored here:
Sylvia Irene Cole
October 31, 1932- August 11, 1997
Stanley Alfred Cole
April 23, 1926- August 26, 2000
My other grandmother was an educator, so it seemed appropriate to put a book near her picture, I even had one that used to be hers. 

Lillian Elaine DeWolfe
June 24, 1930 - January 15, 2005
For my great grandmother, one of her linens.
M.Elaine DeWolfe
June 11, 1903 - June 1, 1998
We also celebrated the lives of Preston's grandparents. His grandfather liked airplanes and as a hobby, he built r/c planes, so we used one of Aiden's matchbox planes near his picture. 
June Elizabeth Brown
May 14, 1925 - September 20, 1984
Stanley Edward Brown
April 5, 1922 - January 13, 2004
Then we ate. Rather than trying to cook a meal of the favorite foods of our departed (I don't think I could stomach dog treats), we opted for a Mexican meal, it seemed appropriate since we were celebrating a Mexican holiday. I made one of our old favorite standbys, Fajitas. The kids wanted to use the fancy glasses, so I put apple juice in margarita glasses.

I just *had* to include this photo of the avocado slices. They look so scrumptious!
The perfect final touch was reading to my children, a Utah Philips quote that I saw over on Soulemama's blog.
"Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world."

I was somehow surprised to feel as connected to our departed as I did. I assumed that we would tell the kids about our grandparents and discuss, the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, but instead I had moments where I felt like our loved ones had joined us for the dinner. I even left the altar up for a few days after just because it kind of felt like saying goodbye again... only not nearly as sad. All in all it was a beautiful day of preparation and a wonderful night of reconnecting with those who have left this wonderful world in search of the next.

Don't forget to check back Thursday to see what we are up to this week. 


  1. I do not have any pictures of Nana, so next time I am at your house, I may need to make a color copy. What a great way to honor everyone! I'm sure Sierra is thrilled to have been included.

  2. The above comment was me. I just fixed my display name on Google.

  3. If you look at the altar photo, there is also one of Nana and Lil together, it's a great one! I will try to get some copies made and send them to you.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your loved ones! I may just have to do this next year.

  5. Thank you! You should definitely do this next year, it is a wonderful way to honor loved ones!

  6. Raina...this is so wonderful... what great things you are doing with Aiden and Eliana.... not only helping them learn about family and country history..but the memories you are creating will live with them for ever! Great work.


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